Identifying Decision Makers

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Updated March 23, 2023

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Without a proven, organization-wide approach, there may be, at best, isolated pockets of high-quality decision making where individual leaders have elected to take a rigorous, transparent approach. Otherwise, the organization is at the mercy of the biggest bias of all: the perception that it is good at making decisions.Larry Neal, former Manager of Decision Analysis, Chevron; and Carl Spetzler, CEO, Strategic Decisions Group*

The selection of leaders and method of decision making depend on the structure and purpose of each organization. Which to choose depends both on the desired outcomes, and on the given group’s ability to operate in different ways to collaborate toward a common goal.

Without the relative organizational context, we can’t help you answer who decides, but we can underscore how important this is for you to answer and document for your team. Lack of clarity in decision making will lead to challenges in your organization. When a worker doesn’t know whose responsibility it is to make a certain decision, the resulting block will hold up their work until they can find out who needs to make the decision.

Work requires constant decision making, and writing down who makes every single decision is untenable. Distributed teams suffer more from blocking on decision making because distance makes getting attention much harder than it is for teams with built-in presence.

To counterbalance the negative effect that distance has on decision making, distributed teams should explicitly define who makes decisions and how they’re made, and build processes that are accessible and help share information.

Here are some considerations to keep in mind as you decide who decides:

  • Decisions are blocking. Indecision or inability to decide blocks progress; lean on autonomy and empowerment so workers don’t rely on authority and approval to make decisions on their tasks.

  • Leadership isn’t only for managers. Managers aren’t the only ones who demonstrate leadership. For example, technical personnel can be leaders in their domain without having others report to them as managers. A designer has decision-making authority over the work they are doing, and can be better equipped to make decisions in certain complicated contexts.

  • Decoupling responsibility from delegation. Leaders who are responsible for the outcome always have the ability to delegate the execution of decision making, while retaining the responsibilities. By having others decide, more decisions can happen. The CFO may outline a simple expense policy that allows individuals to make smart decisions on how to spend company money, while retaining the responsibility of the company’s finances.

Most discussions of decision making assume that only senior executives make decisions or that only senior executives’ decisions matter. This is a dangerous mistake. Decisions are made at every level of the organization, beginning with individual professional contributors and frontline supervisors.Peter Drucker, management expert and author*

Further Reading on Decision Making

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